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The Ins & Outs of Room & Board

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Room & Board

Room and board is another popular subject as its cost make up a large portion of a student’s total college bill. Room and board does apply to both on-campus and off-campus living expenses, but only if certain requirements are met. So, let’s examine what’s considered qualified living expenses.

Staying Within the Schools Cost of Attendance Budget

Room and board includes the cost of housing and a meal plan. Colleges typically have budgets for students who live on-campus in college owned or operated housing as well as for students who live off-campus in an apartment, and for students who still live at home with their parents or with a relative.

To find your schools room and board budget, which should include on-campus and off-campus budgets, you can go to the college’s website, financial aid office or we suggest doing an internet search by typing in the name of the school followed by “cost of attendance”.

Ex: UCLA cost of attendance

This will give you an idea of your school’s allotted amount for room and board. Be sure to check this each year as it does change.

In order to make qualified distribution, you need to stay within the schools allotted budget.


For students residing in apartments or other off-campus housing, qualified room and board costs must be less than or equal to what is included in the college’s cost of attendance (COA) allowance for room and board for the scheduled time period.

Those living on campus will typically get an invoice for room and board, but this won’t be the case for those living off campus. So, students will need to keep and add up the receipts from any rent, utilities, groceries or other housing expense until you reach your maximum amount as indicated in the cost of attendance budget that your school has set forth.

Some of the Finer Points

  • For qualified room and board expenses, the student has to be enrolled in an eligible college program on at least a half-time basis (6-8 units).
  • Costs must be incurred during an academic period during which the student is enrolled or accepted for enrollment.
  • Study abroad programs are considered eligible so long as it is approved for credit by the student’s home college or university. This includes rent incurred during the summer, so long as the student is still enrolled at least part-time.
  • Families using a prepaid tuition plan, including Private College 529 Plans need to note that room and board are not eligible under these types of plans and are encouraged to open a 529 college savings plan.
  • Be sure to tale the distribution from your 529 plan the same year that the qualified expense was paid.
  • 529 Plans cannot be used to pay for the mortgage on a house or condo in which the student lives, but parents may be able to charge the student rent on this home. However, this usually not recommended.
  • Pertaining to Room and Board, you may not use a 529 Plan to pay for Continuing Education classes. They do not count as a qualified distribution.
  • Room and board costs must not exceed the room and board allowance listed on the colleges official Cost of Attendance budget or the actual invoiced cost of room and board.
As with other investments, there are generally fees and expenses associated with participation in a 529 plan. There is also a risk that these plans may lose money or not perform well enough to cover college costs as anticipated. Most states offer their own 529 programs, which may provide advantages and benefits exclusively for their residents. The tax implications can vary significantly from state to state.





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